A Glass Act: The Alchemy and Allure of Markow & Norris

Since their debut in 2003, the enigmatic duo of Markow & Norris have taken the art world by storm with their revolutionary woven glass sculptures that continue to astonish gallerists and art critics alike.   Markow & Norris have been featured in over 40 publications, received national news coverage and have exhibited their work in major markets including New York, Chicago, Miami, Philadelphia and Washington D.C.

With respective backgrounds in chemical engineering and biology, Eric Markow and Thom Norris unite science and art in a delicately choreographed process of manipulating blazing glass into seemingly impossible sculptures that break boundaries and challenge the laws of physics.

If you’re not familiar with Markow & Norris you’re probably scratching your head wondering exactly how one might possibly weave glass.   You’re not alone!  It’s a conundrum that even the most skilled glass artisans have yet to decipher.  “An element of our work is magic,” mused Thom Norris.  “We take a natural, molten glass, sourced from sand, and scientifically force it into an impossible shape, ultimately returning it to a natural organic form.”

A glass menagerie of organic forms includes a Georgia O’Keefe-inspired Texas Longhorn Skull, a series of 35-pound multi-colored Peace Cranes (inspired by their pet parrots Sidney & Simon), the Golden Poppy, the state flower of Norris’s native California, the impressive Indian Elephant Head, a 5-foot long wall sculpture, and their life-sized series of Kimonos.  The Winter Twilight Kimono, the second of what will soon be a series of four hand woven glass Kimonos, stands over 5 feet tall with an outreached arm span of over 4 feet and weighs 125 pounds.  The Kimono series is a slight departure from sculpting with evenly measured strips of woven glass as many irregular shaped pieces are interwoven into the landscape of the glass fabric.  This newer style expands the design duo’s ability to represent organic scenery and is a return to stained glass, their origins in the art world.

The architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, the stained glass lamps of Louis Tiffany Comfort and American glass sculptor Dale Chihuly further inspire Markow & Norris.  Architectural influences, along with a shared love for color and the contradictions of foreign lands, help challenge the weight and scale of their immense works.

There are several theories on how glass was first created and manipulated by humans.  Historians believe that the Phoenicians used glass to glaze ceramic objects such as cups, vases and plates as early as 3000 B.C.  The Phoenincians continued to develop the glazing material until they were able to create items entirely from glass.  It is from Mesopotamia that historians believe furnace structures developed as early as 2700 B.C.

At the turn of the 21st century, Markow & Norris developed a unique technique of weaving glass in their Virginia studio, which took over 5 years to perfect.  After they transform glass into powder, they add a different color sheet and melt the entire mixture so that it can be sifted through on a different color sheet of glass.  Scolding hot glass is manipulated while it’s still in the kiln, which allows for weaving, to create striations. “There was definitely a lot of trial and error,” exclaimed Norris.   While Markow mixes distinctive glass colors in order to create an infinite palette that accentuates their vibrant works, Norris prefers to sketch out a rough draft of the art.  Colors are tested for compatibility.  Markow’s ideas are typically built on a light table without a drawing.  They give careful consideration to color transition both horizontally and vertically, creating both subtle and sharp color gradients.   Due to the proprietary nature of their innovative glass weaving technique, Markow & Norris don’t quite divulge exactly how they are able to create their highly imaginative works.  “We don’t teach anyone how to do it,” quipped Markow.  ‘We like keeping the mystery in it.”

Markow & Norris interrupted the creation of their life-sized Kimono Series, featuring the world’s largest woven glass sculptures, to create a one-of-a-kind creation for the Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner in McLean, Virginia.  The sculpture, Spring Dogwood, is based on the artists’ woodland garden dogwood trees.  Spring Dogwood will welcome visitors to Virginia with a representation of the state flower in a luxurious setting.   The conceptualization, design and realization of the piece took over 6 months.  Spring Dogwood represents yet another approach to woven glass as the designers have incorporated negative space into the design with multiple panels of woven glass layered with multi-dimensional woven glass flowers, and narrow gaps between the glass panels designed to showcase the stained wooden walls behind the piece as the branches of the dogwood tree.  Spring Dogwood incorporates a layering of more than 25 colors and perspectives with slightly smaller flowers at the top and larger flowers near the base.  “We are thrilled that the Ritz-Carlton has commissioned a sculpture of ours,” said Thom Norris.  “We used a great deal of reflective glass that will glisten in the light and we hope that visitors of this esteemed hotel will find our piece a warm greeting to this beautiful state,” added Markow.  “We hope guests of the hotel will appreciate the beauty of the Virginia state flower.”

Spring Dogwood premieres at the Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner on January 28, 2012.  To learn more about Markow & Norris or to commission your own one-of-a-kind creation, visit www.wovenglass.com.